System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $2000 Performance PC

System Builder Marathon, September 2011: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

Superb multi-card scaling is part of the reason why Tom’s Hardware editors have used AMD graphics hardware in every System Builder Marathon machine this year, a fact that may have escaped die-hard AMD fans who've missed seeing the company's CPUs compete up at the top of the spectrum.

And yet, just because we've doted on AMD's graphics-oriented value doesn't mean the company enjoys performance superiority. The fact remains that Nvidia has the most powerful GPU around in its GeForce GTX 580. The only reason we've shied away from its high-performance flagship up until now was that the cost of other necessary system components gobbled up our budget first. That is, until today.

With Intel’s super-fast Sandy Bridge processors and high-end SSDs already populating our top-end build, graphics performance was one of the few places we could noticeably improve the performance of our $2000 configuration without significantly expanding our budget. Recent drops in memory and motherboard prices brought us within $120 of our graphics upgrade goal, forcing us to scale back on two specific items that you’ll certainly notice in the finished system photo.

$2000 Performance System Components
MotherboardGigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3: LGA 1155 Intel Z68 Express $150
Graphics2 x EVGA 015-P3-1580-AR GeForce GTX 580 SLI $980
ProcessorIntel Core i7-2600K: 3.4 GHz-3.8 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache $315
MemoryG.Skill F3-14900CL9D-8GBXL: DDR3-1866 C9, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB) $80
System DriveAdata S511 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD $170
Storage DriveWestern Digital Caviar Green WD20EARS 2 TB, 7200 RPM HDD $80
OpticalLite-On iHAS224-06: 24x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RW $21
CaseAntec Three Hundred Illusion $70
PowerSeasonic SS-850HT: 850 W, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Silver $120
Heat SinkCooler Master Hyper 212 Plus RR-B10-212P-G1 $30
  Total Cost  $2016


Putting all of our sacrifices out in the open, we scaled back on the two items all readers could see from the outside: the case and the optical drive. While we truly believe a high-end multi-purpose system should probably have an Blu-ray burner, the higher-performance graphics cards would boost the score of today’s build in our value comparison.

The case, on the other hand, would only affect perceived worth, since the Antec Three Hundred Illusion has already proven itself an excellent performer through several of our earlier builds.

While today’s build appears to be a budget-buster, its price is $16 higher since we place our order. That's right, it was exactly a $2000 collection of hardware a month ago.

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  • wrazor
    Great article. I am wondering, if instead you had gone with the EVGA 3GB GTX 570 SLI, maybe OC would have been possible? 2000$ is quite a bit of money. I wonder how these babies would hold out for Nvidia's 3D experience? Personally I am not a big 3D fan in theatres(headache and stuff), but gaming has to have a chance. You had an article on projectors gaming experience? Do it with 3d performance\eyefinity with the system marathon builds? That would be really cool. :)
  • Yargnit
    I'm actually surprised that after the recent micro-stutter article you didn't opt for 3x 570's/6950's/6970's instead of 2x 580's. the First two should be cheaper than 2x 580's, while the third would cost very similarly.

    All three should have provided at least equal performance, and been better on intangible benefits to micro stuttering.
  • DjEaZy
    ... a bit of stagnation in performance department... no big difference in Q2 and Q3 models... gonna wait til bulldozer...
  • decembermouse
    Poor case decision. Inadequate PSU (did you seriously expect good overclocking results?). Nice graphics, but severely limited by the other components. Hence, "nice graphics" doesn't matter. It's like putting a V10 inside a Dodge Neon. Just... why? I make a point of using good cases even in less-expensive builds. Compromising on PSU and the case are two things I've learned are no-nos. We can see how this hurt the outcome, When any OC whatsoever results in instability, you've made a mistake (or several).

    Now I know we'll see the usual "well this is meant to be a learning experience, learn from our errors and improve for next time" comments, but these are not mistakes I expect to see Tom's writers making. Even non-uber-enthusiast readers can probably see that some of the imbalances here. No result is horrible, but I'd have expected Tom's to look at that Newegg shopping cart and immediately think "nope guys, this isn't right. This gfx setup... in an Antec 300?" etc.

    Always love these articles guys, keep them up! Even if I do disagree with some of the choices obviously ;) Really looking forward to $1k and $500 builds in the coming days!
  • anonymous x
    decembermousePoor case decision. Inadequate PSU (did you seriously expect good overclocking results?).

    No, this case cools better than many (most?) cases more expensive than it. 2x 120mm intake is more than adequate for SLI cards with room for air to flow between them. Did you even look at the power consumption numbers? The system when overclocked only consumed 697w at load from the wall (actual consumption is less), while the PSU is rated at 850w.
  • Pawessum16
    Where the heck did they get that SSD for $170????? It's $205 on Newegg, and that's after a $35 price drop. What a steal....
  • Hupiscratch
    These SBM keep becoming cheaper. At first was 5k, then 2.5k and now is 2k for the enthusiast one. The recession is beating hard.
  • karma831
    All I can say is...WOW you guys have bad luck with overclocking.
  • jestersage
    maybe one of the 120mm fans should have been placed on the side panel? just wondering...
  • iam2thecrowe
    all i have to say is, ditch the crappy Gigabyte motherboard and get sonething better, and for the price difference get the i5 2500k, its no real loss to the i7.
  • iam2thecrowe
    and also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.
  • crisan_tiberiu
    I have my i7 2600k @ 4,2 GHZ. But @ 4,4 my PC will shut down in Intel Burn test extreme setting. Try that aswell :), without disabling the CPU protection in BIOS.
  • shoelessinsight
    Personally, I would have gone with a 1.5 TB storage drive and used the extra cash on a motherboard with more overclocking potential. Still, it's good to see a GPU upgrade.

    Thanks for the builds!
  • cangelini
    pawessum16Where the heck did they get that SSD for $170????? It's $205 on Newegg, and that's after a $35 price drop. What a steal....


    It was purchased on Newegg about a month ago in preparation for this series, actually =)
  • cangelini
    YargnitI'm actually surprised that after the recent micro-stutter article you didn't opt for 3x 570's/6950's/6970's instead of 2x 580's. the First two should be cheaper than 2x 580's, while the third would cost very similarly.All three should have provided at least equal performance, and been better on intangible benefits to micro stuttering.


    As you saw in that piece, micro-stutter was most apparent on more mainstream cards. Something like the GTX 580 isn't going to demonstrate the issues seen there, whereas a GTX 560/HD 6850 might.
  • cangelini
    iam2thecroweand also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.


    Check out Scott Wasson's excellent story about Crysis 2 on The Tech Report. Tons of artificial geometry to favor Nvidia's tessellation-emphasizing architecture. Not sure that's something we want to fold into our benchmark suite. We are looking at new games, but bear in mind that as soon as we ditch these, we kill the comparison points from the previous quarter. That's why you don't see the SBMs shift benchmark suites as often!
  • hmp_goose
    Very educational. Thank you for the insight on what panned out and what didn't. (Tower CPU coolers like to feel ducted?)
  • Crashman
    decembermouseNow I know we'll see the usual "well this is meant to be a learning experience, learn from our errors and improve for next time" comments, but these are not mistakes I expect to see Tom's writers making.
    No, because the only serious issue with the build was the motherboard VRM not outputting enough current to go to 1.38V. Everything else was great, which means everything else you commented on was wrong. You only need to look at the power and heat page to see how wrong. The big question is, what we should sacrifice to get the extra $100...in order to achieve an extra 5% O/C with another motherboard.
  • ScrewySqrl
    A question I have is why none of the system builder marathon PCs at any price level spend $15-20 on additional fans? More airflow usually equals a cooler system.
  • qwertymac93
    TBH i would've traded the 580s for 570s(or 6970s) and got a better case. The 300 is a nice case on a budget, but this is a high end enthusiast PC, we can spare a few extra $ for better cable management, more airflow, better water cooling support, more expansion slots...

    Overall the build certainly wasn't bad, just not quite 10/10 for me :)
    Oh, and do you think the overclocking would've been improved with a cooler that blows over the vrms, like the Cooler master GeminII S?
  • _Pez_
    I can surely argue that those results are quite strange for me, because those GTX 580 has higher shader clock (1710MHz Shader Clock) and wider memory bandwidth (202.1 GB/s Memory Bandwidth ). I would like to know the exact reason why suddenly and quietly evga or nvidia might have decided to change the specs of the non overclocked cards without previous notice. (which I suppose) Because of that, you are reading and seeing a wide favorable margin against the other pair of cards and it might be the reason why the reviewers could not overclock them as they expected.. I own 2 gtx 580 with the same part number specs of my card are; 1544 Mhz Shader Clock and 192.4 Gb/s Memory Bandwidth, both of my cards were made on november 09, 2010. If any of you know why the difference, I ask you to share the info :D .
  • Novuake
    I do not approve of the ADATA SSD, horible brand... Unreliable at best...
  • Crashman
    jestersagemaybe one of the 120mm fans should have been placed on the side panel? just wondering...
    The CPU and GPU temperatures were fine, and the CPU PWM isn't anywhere close to the side fan. Front-to-back airflow works fine, but the cards probably needed a little more voltage to O/C and this builder doesn't do graphics overvolting.
    qwertymac93TBH i would've traded the 580s for 570s(or 6970s) and got a better case. The 300 is a nice case on a budget, but this is a high end enthusiast PC, we can spare a few extra $ for better cable management, more airflow, better water cooling support, more expansion slots...Overall the build certainly wasn't bad, just not quite 10/10 for me Oh, and do you think the overclocking would've been improved with a cooler that blows over the vrms, like the Cooler master GeminII S?
    Probably, but then the CPU would have likely been warmer due to the modified air path.
  • Luay
    Showing us your experiment and the (not quite successful) results was brave and informative. Thanks!
    3 Sapphire HD6950 2GB Toxics unlocked and manually overclocked for $850 is $130 cheaper than GTX580 SLI.
    Upgrade to NF200 tri-fire ready Asus P67 WS revolution for $105 more than the GA-Z68XP-UD3. A premium overclocker too!
    Take away your $16 over the budget and you're at $1991.

    I would also recommend to a friend attempting to build similarly to:
    1) Replace i7 2600k with 15 2500k and save $95.
    2) Switch Memory to low voltage such as G.skill Sniper 8GB for and save $25. I don't want to go over a 850W PSU
    3) Switch HDD to Samsung F3 1TB for and save $20
    4) Upgrade SSD to Crucial M4 128GB for $30 more since the money is there.
    5) Upgrade case to Rosewill Blackhawk for $30 more. I'm not saying my choice of case is better, but I need more airflow for my choice of GPUs.
    6) You now have $89 to spend on a Gold Efficiency PSU, a premium CPU cooler, or a blue-ray drive, in that order.